Why would anyone want a disability?

“Sooner or later, everyone is disabled” - Raúl Krauthausen in an interview on disability at work

Between diversity, fear of contact and great opportunities: We talked to the inclusion activist Rául Aguayo-Krauthausen about disability and inclusion in working life and got exciting answers to our questions. So, regardless of whether you are disabled or not, you should definitely read on and learn more about dealing with people with disabilities on the job.

kununu: Who is a person with a disability in working life and where does a disability even begin?

Raúl Aguayo-Krauthausen: The disability movement and social science are not necessarily concerned with distinguishing between disabled and non-disabled. Rather, it is about disabled and temporarily not disabled. Either when we are still too small and adults decide for us, or when we get older and are happy when there is an elevator in the building because we may not be as good on foot any more. From the perspective of disabled people's rights, there is also the concept that a distinction should be made between being disabled and being disabled. We conduct a telephone interview, which is why neither of us has a disability. If I were deaf, it might be different, but then we would probably communicate via text. It doesn't matter whether I'm sitting or standing. Disability is always a combination of the environment and one's own limitations. Many disabilities can be eliminated through accessibility. The people who prevent accessibility are handicaps.

How can you achieve accessibility at work?

First and foremost, it must be recognized that disabled people are not all the same. You have to look carefully at what needs are there. A blind person needs different support services than someone in a wheelchair or someone with a mental illness. Companies should remain flexible. With an elevator, it's not done automatically - or maybe that elevator isn't even necessary.


Already knew? Under this link you can find the companies on the kununu employer platform where their employees have already indicated that they offer the benefit of accessibility. Your company is not on the list, but is there still accessibility? Then simply rate your employer here.

Is it therefore only possible to be barrier-free if the company has already decided to employ someone with a disability?

Yes. Of course, if you want to hire someone, you should first look at their qualifications. Does the person fit into the team? Whether the person is blind, in a wheelchair or maybe deaf, you suddenly find ways. So you have to approach it with an open mind and be aware that this will make my team more diverse. Teams with an employee with disabilities are better able to respond to challenges. Simply because there are different perspectives. People with disabilities are masters at accepting and solving challenges.

As a colleague, how do you deal with a person with a disability - especially if you are afraid of contact at the beginning?

First and foremost, you have to ask yourself why you have this fear of contact. Most of the time you have it because you never learned to live or work with people with disabilities. The majority society has so far failed to respond to diversity. She reacts in a similar way to people with a different skin color or sexual orientation. As a colleague you should be aware of this and simply communicate the uncertainties you have: “I don't know if you need help, but should I help you?” Or if someone has no arms: How do you give the person then the hand? It is clear that there are uncertainties. Just ask. Usually, people with disabilities have learned to answer these questions well. At the same time, colleagues should consider whether they would answer the questions they want to ask themselves. "Why are you sitting in a wheelchair?" Is not a good question to get to know each other. After three months you might be able to ask that. But there is often a kind of voyeurism involved. Understand that people with disabilities are just people first and foremost. What you don't want someone to do to you, don't do that to anyone else. That's the best motto.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean for you?

For me, inclusion in the workplace means not only being there, but also being able to shape it. To be there would mean the doorman has Down syndrome. As a rule, however, it has little scope for design. In a further step, participation also includes sharing. People with disabilities should be able to become leaders. You can have good ideas or play a key role in shaping a product. You can decide and not only work in the low-wage sector. I think from a CEO's perspective it can be said that disability leads to the product becoming better. You have to imagine that you have a person with a disability on your team and you build furniture, for example. Then someone in the team can say that it would be important if a table could be wheelchair accessible. Suddenly you would have opened up new customer segments. At Apple, many accessible features were developed by people with disabilities. The iPhone is the most popular smartphone among blind people. It's very well thought out and Apple is very strict on app accessibility.

Do you think that people with disabilities might even be better suited to be leaders?

People with disabilities are of course more resilient because they have fought different battles in life than in the company. They're also likely to be more loyal to a company because they know how difficult it can be to find a job. But you also have a different perspective on things. You can bring in new insights and new knowledge. Maybe they also have good management skills. But to be honest: Even non-disabled people can bring these qualities with them or learn them. I wouldn't automatically say that people with disabilities are better at anything. That would be positive discrimination. You have to trust disabled people as well as non-disabled people.

Why do companies still prefer to pay the equalization levy in 2019 than employ an employee with a disability?

Many companies tell us that they would hire people with disabilities at any time. They just wouldn't apply. I would like to get to the bottom of that. Is that really the case or are they just saying that? With the equalization levy, it is still too attractive not to leave your comfort zone. Or they simply outsource production to a workshop for people with disabilities, which they can also use to buy their way out. There are political demands in Germany to triple this equalization charge and not to include outsourcing to workshops in the quota. At some point there should be an incentive to honestly employ people with disabilities on the 1st job market. That would end up being cheaper. I believe the middle ground is the answer. Certainly you can oblige companies more. You should too. But you also have to give companies the opportunity to get applicants who are suitable for the job. The subject is huge. It is also about the qualification of people with disabilities. For example, was the training facility accessible? If not, then you shouldn't be surprised if nobody applies. But we will not get any further with pure voluntariness.

Could people with disabilities actually have inhibitions when applying?

I can't say for sure. I think the rule of thumb is that large companies can more easily employ people with disabilities. Especially with physical disabilities. Processes are already in place there that can provide jobs for people with disabilities. Here you can name Deutsche Bahn, Deutsche Post or Deutsche Telekom. You know how to do it. A small or medium-sized company could find it very difficult. So it may well be that you don't dare to apply there. After all, you are probably the first to meet HR professionals. One measure would be to provide small or medium-sized companies with assistance or handouts. What should be done if situation XY occurs? You have to get out of your mind that people with disabilities cause problems in working life. The previous offers are partly too bureaucratic and not in the practical language of the companies. Especially people with so-called mental or emotional disabilities often have it easier with SMEs. Because people can be approached more individually here.

Do you know situations where the handicap was the main reason why someone did not get a job or just got it because of it?

For example, I know people who officially do not get their so-called personal budget paid because they are supposedly “too disabled”. On their own initiative, however, these people said that they wanted to work. And they would even have found jobs. But the office refuses to pay for it. On the other part of the question: There are jobs that people with disabilities can do better than those without disabilities. An example of this can be people with what is known as an autism spectrum disorder. Some people with this neurodiversity work for SAP, Microsoft or similar large IT companies because many of them, of course not all, can have a high level of comprehension. Other projects such as “Discovering Hands” provide medical training for blind people, for example, to palpate people and, for example, to detect breast cancer at an early stage. Sighted people would be less able to do this because they lack the literal sensitivity. Of course, these are somehow special jobs that were created especially for disabled people. But they earn money on the 1st job market and are present in the company. I think this is a good step in the right direction and much better than an outsourced workplace in a workshop for the disabled.

How can you actually notice in the application process whether you are being discriminated against?

In my opinion, that is hardly possible. In some cases, however, employers also have to invite people with disabilities to interview by law. There you shouldn't answer questions like “Why are you sitting in a wheelchair?” Or “Can you even do that?”. You don't have to.

What help can people with disabilities seek when they want to work?

You should contact a job counseling service. A first point of contact can be the supplementary independent participation advice service (EUTB), which can initially provide a kind of guide in the jungle of possibilities. Then you can get advice from job coaches or from nationwide initiatives.

Do people with disabilities actually have additional earnings limits at work?

Yes. If you request assistance that is paid by the social welfare office, you may not exceed certain income or wealth limits. It used to be the rent and the double Hartz IV rate that you could earn. Now you can save 25,000 euros - that's not a lot if it applies to your whole life. Otherwise you would have to pay back 100 percent of the money for the assistance. This restricts people with disabilities in their career opportunities. The low wage sector remains.



About the expert:

As an inclusion activist and founder of SOZIALHELDEN, studied communications and design thinker, Raúl Aguayo-Krauthausen has been working in the internet and media world for over 15 years. He has also been an Ashoka Fellow since 2011.